I believe this photo must date from somewhere between 1979-1981. My mother had married her second husband and fused our mini-family with his larger one, which transformed my world overnight into a very strange and different place. Instead of living in a small adobe house with my single Mom in New Mexico, I was thrown into the midst of farming/ranching life in Durango, Colorado.
The new family that I was thrust into featured three step-brothers, all of them older than me, all of them football players and imposingly huge, with the shortest and lightest of the three measuring over 190 centimeters and 90 kilos. And there was also a large extended family: a new grandmother, new aunts and uncles who were the in-laws of my stepfather’s first wife, new cousins, new friends of the family.
There were also new neighbors, new schools, and new communities–every small American town is different in some way from all the others, and in towns like Durango there are many different communities that only partially overlap. Town kids and country kids rub shoulders uneasily in school. And that’s to say nothing of the cleavages of class and race.
It was a huge plethora of exciting new ways for me to not fit in, basically.
There were some compensations, however. I spent a lot of time alone in the years between eight and fifteen, walking along the Florida river in the rough wild country beyond the last of the cultivated fields. I melted into that landscape. I spent hours listening to the water rushing over the stones and breathing in the smell of cedar and pinon and sage.
I tasted the wind. The habit of stillness sank into me, and penetrated my blood and my bones. It never leaves me except in the moments of greatest pain and distress.
And there was also Bo.
Bo was my horse. A buckskin gelding with an appalling intelligence, he was nearly twice my age, mule-headed and gentle and roguish. He’d come to me if I brought the grain bucket, sigh quietly and let me bridle and saddle him. He’d behave reasonably well once I was on his back. But he knew every trick in the book! He’d inflate his lungs and hold his breath when I was cinching his saddle to keep me from being able to tighten the strap all the way. If I didn’t remember to cinch it tighter a few minutes later, the saddle would be listing over to one side or the other within a few minutes of mounting up.
If I didn’t fasten the barn door well enough, he could manipulate the pin bolt with his lips and lift the bar to let himself in and have as much hay and grain as he liked. And of course I was terribly gullible. Bo was not a bad or mean horse, by any means. He was a kindly beast for the most part, and he never kicked, bit or trampled anyone. But he couldn’t resist the one chance I gave him to sweep me off his back with a low-hanging tree limb!
My happiest memories are generally just of riding, and of his physical presence. The warmth of his flank, the velvet softness of his muzzle, the heat of his breath, or the thick strong strands of his mane and tail. I loved running my palm over the black bristle of his Mohawk, especially as the thick brush of hair grew out into a dramatic crest. I loved the sweet wild scent of his hide and his sweat. I loved the sounds he made, his billowing breath and the whickers and chuckles which always had just that hint of laughter. I loved the clomp of his teeth when I gave him a carrot or an apple.
I don’t think I was ever a particularly good horsewoman; he was always a better horse than I was a rider. We never won any prizes or contests. I gamely participated in all sorts of rodeos and gymkhanas and other sporting events at which I sucked: this photo was doubtless taken at one of many such events at which I sucked for a large audience. But I was just a kid, and I was in love with my horse, and I can’t recall that my sucking really stung all that much.
It wasn’t my life’s ambition to be the fastest to race around three barrels or the quickest to tie up a goat.
And there’s no way you can be a loser, when you’re a little girl who has her own horse.